‘Narnia’: Not the church basement

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NEW YORK.

In a Nov. 13 New York Times Magazine story about the movie “Left Behind: World at War” — based on the best-selling book series by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye — Peter Lalonde, co-chief executive officer of Cloud Ten Pictures, which produced the film, said this about the forthcoming film “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (TLTWTW): “Great film, but there’s nothing Christian about it.” Hallelujah.

Perhaps not since the 1981 best picture “Chariots of Fire” has there been a film that so subtly and wonderfully appeals to the spirit and lets the audience decide if it wishes to go further. Compared to the schlock shown in church basements over the years, in which the script would not have measured up to minimal standards in any writing class and the acting and directing were so bad anyone seeking to make a living in this genre would surely have starved to death, “TLTWTW” is a masterpiece of counter-programming.

Everything those awful movies were, this isn’t. It faithfully follows the storyline conceived by C.S. Lewis, the Belfast native, gigantic intellect, Christian apologist and Oxford professor, who died 42 years ago, but whose work continues to sell and challenge the self-indulgent and disbelieving spirit of the age. Lewis believed in taking on the popular philosophies of his day on their own turf, not retreating into religious catacombs. In addition to teaching and writing, during World War II, Lewis broadcast lectures on the BBC on marriage, the Christian faith and other subjects. He couldn’t have been more mainstream than that.

“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” adapted from Lewis’ popular book series, opens nationally Dec. 9 with one of the largest rollouts in film history. The Walt Disney Co., along with co-producer Walden Media, have faith the film will not only draw many Christians and conservatives, but people who don’t share Lewis’ beliefs will buy tickets for the adventure story, the spectacular special effects and the characters who find faith and courage in a most unlikely place: the mythical land of Narnia, where it has been “always winter, but never Christmas” until they arrive.

This is an important film because it offers a better strategy for Christians and conservatives than Hollywood-bashing. Movies have been a source of moral controversy from the first one-reelers more than a century ago. Politicians and religious leaders denounced them for scenes that today would seem tame. In 1922, Congress threatened to censor movies unless the industry cleaned up. Film producers selected Will H. Hays — President Warren Harding’s campaign manager, a Presbyterian elder and a Republican — to set up a commission to review films before their release. In 1934, the Roman Catholic Church formed the Legion of Decency to combat immoral movies and told Catholics which films they could see and which were “condemned” and forbidden to them.

Faced with millions of unsold tickets, the movie industry established the Production Code Administration, which strictly monitored stringent decency guidelines, better known as the Hays Code, and granted seals of approval to films they liked and fined producers $25,000 for releasing films without the seal. It wasn’t until 1968 that this system was scrapped and replaced with today’s letter ratings.

Most conservatives and Christians, rather than advocating better movies, have been content to boycott films, make really bad ones, or criticize what was produced. This approach has had minimal influence on the film industry and has contributed little positive to the culture wars.

With “TLTWTW,” there is no going back to the church basement. This film should slam the door and take viewers to the main level. It deserves the patronage of all who have lamented the loss of “good films” and believe they are far more compelling and entertaining than the sex, violence and profanity Hollywood has for too long produced unchallenged.

As with “The Passion of the Christ” (an openly religious film) and “Chariots of Fire,” the public must buy tickets to “TLTWTW” and make this and its sequels big moneymakers for Disney and Walden. Large profits are the key to ensuring more good films. If all of the energy put into the failed boycott of Disney for “gay day” at Walt Disney World now goes into praising Disney and Walden for creating a magnificent work, this “light” will overcome that other “darkness.”

C.S. Lewis got it. So will you after seeing this movie and cheering the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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